Saturday 28 January 2017

E400City Road Test, Comparison & Opinion

It's all very well getting privileged rides on demonstrators, and I truly appreciate them as it's good to get as many opinions from as many different angles as possible. It's important to hear what the engineers think, as they have to keep the vehicles on the road. But it's equally important to hear what the drivers think as they have to sit in them day in day out, and I provide the passenger's judgement.

So this morning I drove to Wangford, had an argument with a resident about the legality of parking by unmarked bus stops (it's legal) and waited for the E400City demonstrator to come in. This particular driver and I go back the best part of 28 years, when we were both working in the Dartford area although at different depots, so I knew I'd get an honest appraisal of the E400.

The verdict was "I've driven worse". Thinking about it that is the perfect summary for this bus. There are some good points but also some niggly frustrating ones too that could be solved with a bit of thought. Banging ones knees on the dashboard isn't good, even if you are on the tall side. The steering wasn't enthused over, nor the delay in the retarder releasing. It's those sort of things I could never know just by riding them, and I think manufacturers should consult with drivers a lot more than they currently do.

The more I travelled on it the more I realised that the ride was distinctly uncomfortable.  It looks great, sounds great and the layout is brilliant. Yet I was still left thinking it could, and really should have been so much better. Who, for example, thought non stick tables are suitable for buses! The moment the bus turns or brakes whatever is on the table goes flying! The rear seats upstairs are amazing, yet there is no bell push in reach - the nearest one being in the rear of the seat two rows in front. Why does the heating panel in the stairwell get extremely hot the second the heating is turned up? Why is the suspension so rubbish! However, I wanted a second opinion and so I met up with Cameron Robinson at Norwich and we rode back to Thurton on the demonstrator.

I was particularly pleased it was Cameron as we rarely agree on anything. He thinks buses I loath are great and vice versa. But most importantly he is young and doesn't carry the rose tinted specs about the past I do. He missed out on Bristols, Metropolitan Scanias, Leyland Nationals et al. Cameron was born into a world dominated by Darts, Tridents, Flolines etc and so I wanted his opinion of the E400City. Lo and behold he agreed with me, that it was ok but could be so much better. However, there was a more important test. We alighted at Thurton, crossed the road and caught the X22 back to Norwich.

The E400City demonstrator at Thurton     pic (c) Cameron Robinson
If you cast your mind back to November 2015 I ventured up to Scotland to try out as many new buses as I could, only to reach the conclusion that the best bus around was the Gemini 1 bodied Volvo B9tl. So we put that theory to the test by jumping straight onto 37563, deliberately to compare it to the E400City.

37563 at Beccles            pic (c) Zak Nelson
The bus was virtually full when we boarded, yet roared away up the hill from Thurton putting the E400 to shame. It was also quieter, much quieter. Not a single rattle, a smooth ride making typing on the phone easier and even Cameron was in no doubt that the Gemini wasn't just better, but markedly better. Now for the statistic that is either impressive or worrying depending on your viewpoint. The demonstrator has done around 7,000 miles and I have a feeling could be a complete wreck in 6 months. When we got to Norwich I asked the extremely friendly driver of the X22 what the mileage of the Gemini was. I thought it would be high but even I wasn't expecting to hear 766,000 miles. That's round the world almost 30 times. The demonstrator has barely crossed the Atlantic.

So yet again I have to ask WHY a bus 8 and a half years old with 766,000 miles on the clock is better in just about every area than a brand new bus, built for an exhibition. What can't we do now that we could then. Even Wright's own newer bodies are no match for the Gemini 1. I was so pleased it wasn't just me though, and someone from the younger generation agreed with me. Thanks, Cameron - perhaps I'm not quite the grumpy old man I thought I was and my dissatisfaction with new buses might be justified. As for the E400City - well as the driver said - I've been on worse.

Cameron also came up trumps later in the day. As we came out of Norwich on an E200 that Cameron noted rattled less than the demonstrator (BB60 BUS) we saw Yarmouth Transport liveried Volvo B7l 59 on a very rare outing on the X1. Cameron did some digging and found a pic taken in Yarmouth by Simon Austin who has kindly agreed to allow it to be published here. Thanks Simon.

First Yarmouth 59 on the X1 today.      pic (c) Simon Austin
It has also been reported that former Ipswich Buses MD Jeremy Cooper, who left the Suffolk operator at the end of last year has taken up the position of Acting Commercial Manager at Anglian/Konect. As yet that's all I know but also of note is Ipswich Buses are yet to advertise for a replacement MD. If I hear anything else of substance I'll report it here.

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